Carolina Schutti: We lost ourselves in the global world

People no longer know who they are, so they are afraid of everything foreign

I take great interest in people and I am a very careful observer. This is evident in my books, in the minor details I describe, they draw my attention. When I am writing a book, I penetrate deeply into each character and look at the world through their eyes, writer Carolina Schutti says in an interview to Europost.

Ms Schutti, was winning the European Union Prize for Literature any help to you? What effect did it have on your literary career?

Austria is a small country, just like Bulgaria. That is why it is hard for Austrian writers to establish themselves in world literature. Yes, I do write in German, but it is still difficult to make a breakthrough on the German book market. Nonetheless, Austria is doing a lot for its young authors - grants scholarships, invites them to take part in various programmes. Thus, for instance, I receive a scholarship for the novel I'm currently writing, and it gives me a chance to think outside the box and have financial freedom as I don't have to teach for one year. On the other hand, the prize helped my book to be translated to several languages, I can travel more and meet my readers in different countries, such as Serbia, Croatia, France, the Netherlands.

The decision for awarding this prize was based on 'the beautiful and poetic style of your novel'. However, it also deals with many of today's important problems.

Yes, the major problem is that people are losing touch with their roots, which is something like a diagnosis of the modern global society. In our times, the family is losing its grip and importance against the backdrop of our growing mobility both within the boundaries of Europe and across the world. Nowadays we receive information very quickly and know what is happening around the globe, no matter if it is happening in Chile, or America, or the North. For this reason, it is very important that people do not lose their sense of self. Only when they know who they are, can they live in peace with this globalised world and attain self-awareness. Unfortunately, the fear of everything foreign is becoming increasingly menacing throughout Europe. And one of the main reasons for these fears is that people are not aware of who they are.

Your novel is a story of a young woman who knows nothing about her roots because she lost her parents - her mother died and her father abandoned her. The story is so powerful that a question suggests itself - was the subject matter prompted by the author's own life story?

Yes, the core of the novel has something to do with my biography, there are some autobiographical moments, but it is not my life story. I share my life with my characters as if they are my friends to whom I am very much attached. The autobiographical element consists in the fact that as a child I also lost my mother tongue. I was born in Austria, but my parents came from Poland. So, until I turned five, only Polish was spoken at home. When I went to kindergarten, my parents told me that it was time to learn German well and forbade me to talk in Polish. Then I totally forgot my mother tongue within a very short time. Later, something very strange happened. The fairy tales I heard in Polish somehow got translated in German in my head, all by themselves. At that time I had a long-play record, Peter Pan, which was in Polish but after some time I started hearing it in German. Now I play it once in a while and listening to it always evokes warm feelings. The sound of the language is familiar but I don't understand a thing. Our mother tongue gives us something that defines us as personalities. By the age of three we have already mastered it. It is interesting that we don't remember most of the events of our early childhood years.

Do you remember your grandmas to whom the novel is dedicated?

One of my grandmas lived in Hannover, she spoke German and I had a very heartfelt connection with her. She was my father's mother. My other grandma lived in Poland. When I was a child, we used to visit her but I couldn't talk to her. My mother very rarely talked about her family. So, my book hides part of my longing to know my Polish family better.

Is it your first time in Sofia?

Yes. However it is not the first time that I come to Bulgaria. My earlier visit was during the festival in Rousse dedicated to Nobel Prize winner Elias Canetti. My PhD thesis was about his literary work. I wanted to study the link with the Bible. I managed to prove that there are numerous references to the Bible in his books, particularly to the New Testament. It was very interesting to find these quotes in the fabric of his writing. I have learnt a tremendous lot from his novel Die Blendung (Auto-da-Fe), especially when it comes to the accuracy in writing, the details. A person must be precise. To be careful about people around him. I take great interest in people and I am a very careful observer. This is evident in my books, in the minor details I describe, they draw my attention. When I am writing a book, I penetrate deeply into each character and look at the world through their eyes.

You know that Canetti was born in Bulgaria, don't you?

Yes, I know. When I read his autobiography Saved Language, I was very surprised because it was my life story, as he wrote how he forgot Bulgarian, the language of his childhood. As if some magician had translated the stories and fairy tales of his childhood into German. That is why I can say that I have three touch points with Canetti - literature, research work and my personal connection to him.

Critics maintain that you pay great heed to the musicality of a phrase. How would you explain it?

Maybe the explanation lies in my musical education. I studied classical guitar, for orchestra. Regrettably, a person doesn't have many chances for professional realisation with a guitar. My second major was singing. I still sing. But when I write, I always realise how important it is to render musical sound to a written phrase. I always try to write sentences that have beautiful sound. I love to play with the form. This book, for instance, is like a Matryoshka doll. The entire story is contained in the first chapter. It is the outermost shell. The main character opens doll after doll, coming closer and closer to her inner self. It is only the smallest doll that she cannot open. She understands that she will break it if she tries. That is why she has to stop.

Does the book you are writing now have a title?

Not yet. The events in the book unfold between Florence and Siberia. I have never been to Siberia, but I have lived in Florence for some time. I used to teach there.


The author is a journalist and publisher.


Carolina Schutti was born in 1976 in Innsbruck, Austria. She has a university degree in German philology, English and American Studies. Her PhD thesis is dedicated to the literary work of the Nobel Prize laureate Elias Canetti. Schutti writes novels, poetry and radio plays. In November, she visited Sofia to present her novel Once I Must Have Trodden Soft Grass which has won the European Union Prize for Literature. Schutti's novel is permeated with the idea of lost memory and constant search of identity thanks to which we can find our place in life and reach inner harmony and peace.

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